Solar Eclipse 2017: from Madras to New York to Charleston, people were awestruck

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NEW YORK – On a hot summer day, some otherwise skittish clouds, hovering near a blazing sun, played its part to perfection Broadway-style, as the solar eclipse came to a climax.

The moon became an invisible, slow motion curtain that drew across the face of the evanescent sun – turned it into a blazing crescent, a hammock stuffed with tar, then into a black ball, with golden tendrils. The clouds moved seamlessly through this spectacle, gliding like a ballerina across the sky, tinged in hues of white and gray.

Crowds watched mesmerized, from the tiny town of Madras in Oregon – where the eclipse was first viewed in its totality; whose population surged from 6,200 to more than 100,000 with visitors – to New York City, which came to a standstill at 2:44 p.m. – millions of heads craning up into skyscraper-laden skies, eyes covered with opaque, colorful glasses; a semblance of new year’s eve festivities at Times Square; to Charleston, South Carolina, two minutes later on the East Coast, where the moon bid adieu, the curtain lifted, the sun took a final bow.

The sky became normal again.

As phenomena goes, the 2017 solar eclipse, which traveled at a speed of 1,500 miles per hour, was not as rare as the Madagascar Palm, which flowers only once every 100 years. But it came close.

The last time a solar eclipse was visible across the length and breadth of the United States was 99 years ago. But if like a storm watcher, one has the inclination to travel to gaze at the sun and skies darken in the middle of the day, the good news is that it occurs every 18 months or so, in some part of the world.

In New York City, crowds surged into the open from office buildings and restaurants, as the eclipse took shape starting from 1:23 p.m. There was no dearth of eclipse lovers and watchers, the curious and the anxious.

Some were innovative, made money off the spectacle, as a gentleman did, close to Bryant Park. Like some museums of New York, which advertise ‘suggested donation’, he charged likewise $2 for the pleasure of watching the eclipse from the safety of a helmet with lenses used by welders. It looked NASA-style too. Like what’s used by astronauts when they go for an exploratory walk in space. A line of people – those who were not fortunate enough, or had left it too late to get protective glasses – quickly gathered for the paid viewing.

All photos by Sujeet Rajan.

Close by, a scientific-minded office worker had thoughtfully brought a telescope, which reflected the solar eclipse onto a cardboard box. While the reflection was admirable, would have reminded some of the Indian-origin women of the ritual of karva chauth, popular among married women in the north of India – it no doubt incensed individuals who didn’t possess the necessary eyewear to have a direct look at the sun; made them even more miserable that they were losing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, dejected by thoughts of getting brow beaten by braggards in the evening.

Though the gentleman who brought the telescope was magnanimous enough to offer to all who wanted to take a look, his opaque eyewear too, for the eclipse, it wasn’t surprising that the line at the other gentleman with the welder glasses grew at a rapid pace. The stack of dollars in his pockets grew.

A few blocks away, at Times Square, a lady sat on the steps of Duffy Square, meditating. Sitting cross-legged in a yoga pose, she was totally unflustered with the throng of people piqued by her. She had placed a bowl in one of her palms. A placard kept at a step below her made it clear she wanted to spread, ‘vibrate’ love and peace from ‘the eclipse of my heart.’ The placard also was probably to warn idiots off not to place coins and notes in her bowl, like one would do for begging Buddhist monks.

As 2:44 p.m. came by, the eclipse at its peak, with almost three quarters of the sun devoured by the moon, scenes at most roads in Manhattan were probably the same: people stopped in their tracks, stepped off pavements onto busy roads, traffic came to a standstill, hypnotized, as skies darkened. An eerie feeling of dusk crept in, the air turned cool. There were peals of laughter all around, exclamations of surprise, euphoria.

An awesome feeling of togetherness, surreal, overwhelming sensation of truly experiencing something beyond what one woke up to in the morning, swept over the crowd.

Of course, the sun’s shining bright outside, as I write this. Some cold facts: courtesy of the solar eclipse, employers in the US were anticipated to lose nearly $700 million in lost productivity, according to firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

For some in the US, the next chance to view a solar eclipse is less than seven years away: the date determined is April 8, 2024. However, it would be visible only in central US, from Texas to Maine, Mexico and east Canada.

Another solar eclipse, across the US, will occur in 2045. Of course, some other startling phenomena is also being predicted to happen by then, furrow the eyebrows for some, implant joy in others: Whites will be a minority in the US. India will be the richest and most populous country in the world.

Trivia junkies should check a plethora of information on the solar eclipse, including video, on this link: https://www.space.com/37772-solar-eclipse-2017-maps.html

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com; follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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